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Covid denier is a 'person of interest' in Holohan and Glynn phone harassment investigation

Senator John McGahon said Facebook has “spiralled out of control”.

GARDAÍ ARE FOLLOWING a definite line of inquiry into threatening calls made against Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn.

A woman with a long history as a Covid denier and conspiracy theorist is a person of interest in the case, sources have told The Journal

The woman, who has amassed thousands of followers on various social media channels, has been strongly critical of the government and NPHET during the pandemic, and has called on her followers to “fight back” against restrictions.

The woman has come to garda attention on several occasions since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, mostly for failure to adhere to Covid guidelines. 

Gardaí have been monitoring her social media profiles for the last year. She has risen in popularity during the pandemic for sharing swathes of claims and misinformation about vaccines, Covid and the Constitution.

Gardaí launched an investigation into late-night harassing phone calls to Dr Tony Holohan and Dr Ronan Glynn over the weekend, which they suspect was encouraged by this woman. 

A Facebook page, which is suspected to be linked to the woman, posted a photo of Dr Holohan’s phone number and home address from an old phone directory on Friday, prior to the threatening phone calls being made. 

The site contained links to the woman’s own website on the page’s biography section, and featured videos of her giving speeches at several events.

The post was later removed by Facebook but the account remained active. 

The account has since been disabled after Facebook was asked by The Journal whether the account would be allowed remain active. 

The woman was previously banned from Facebook but has set up other ‘sockpuppet’ accounts. 

Facebook said its own investigations into the harassment are continuing. It also said it is investigating the user’s other potential puppet accounts as well as an Instagram page associated with her. 

One government Senator has raised questions about the role Facebook plays in hosting threats, misinformation and intimidation.

Senator John McGahon said that Facebook needs to start regulating itself and if it can’t, then the Irish Government may do it for them. 

Speaking to The Journal, McGahon said: “I think that Facebook has let this spiral out of control. They have essentially let this grow to the point where it’s virtually impossible to police. But on the other side of things, you have one of the biggest companies on the planet so it doesn’t add up when they say they don’t have the resources to hire more moderators.

“Facebook has proven time and time again that they’re not capable of regulating themselves. If that’s the case, then maybe it’s time for Government to step in and do the regulating.”

“Facebook is quite quick to show us how much accurate info is there about Covid online but they’re not willing to tell us about the misinformation,” he said. 

Asked if it had any comment about threatening and intimidating content being hosted on Facebook, the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media said: 

“If a criminal offence has been committed, this is a matter for An Garda Síochána. If a data protection breach has occurred, this is a matter for the Data Protection Commissioner.

“The law requires that online services remove or disable access to any illegal content on their services when made aware of it.”

Facebook said it is continuing to investigate all incidences of threatening and intimidatory content hosted on the platform. 

“Threatening content is not tolerated on Facebook or Instagram and we remove it when we become aware of it,” a spokesperson told The Journal.

“We removed the post in question on Friday and those who repeatedly break our guidelines will be banned. We’re investigating the profiles brought to our attention and will remove all content that violates our community standards.”

“Our teams also work closely with the Gardaí when a threat to safety is identified. We encourage anyone who feels unsafe to contact the Gardaí and report this content to us, so we can act.”

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